Though the act may have left him something of a self-made martyr for his cause, Bill Cherry’s recent resignation from the position of county budget director was essentially the grown-up equivalent of a temper tantrum, borne of his apparent failure to understand the limits of his own role and authority in the administration of Schoharie County’s finances. Yet it’s easy to sympathize with his frustration; when you think you have all the answers and no one listens to you, it tends to get on your nerves.
Clearly, Cherry’s position was not an enviable one. Schoharie County’s lack of any clear-cut administrative or managerial role thrusts an awkward list of responsibilities, in the form of it’s ‘budget director’ position, on already fully active department heads, which promises to test their time, skills and egos. Whether you agree or disagree with Cherry’s forceful admonitions to the Board of Supervisors (calling for hiring freezes and draconian budget cuts), you should recognize that these proposals come not from his skill or expertise as an administrator, but rather from his lack thereof.
For the past several years Bill Cherry has been something of a broken record, telling the Board of Supervisors to simply stop spending and stop hiring. This was understandable as Cherry is clearly capable of simple mathematics; meaning he could add up the amount of revenue coming in and clearly see that it did not match up to what the county was spending. These are very practical and common sense solutions and explain why Cherry has substantial support from county republicans. Surely it feels good to be able to take the high ground and give those out-of-control supervisors a public spanking. However, in an administrative role, these simplistic feel-good solutions don’t cut it.
This is why Schoharie County needs a professional administrator with the education, skills and experience to play around with the numbers, fine-tune the budget process, and insure that the county is effectively using its resources. We all want to see county government operate more efficiently, but service cuts and hiring freezes are not necessarily the healthiest answer in a recession, especially when the federal government is shipping billions of dollars to state and local governments to maintain services and increase hiring. Not only does the county provide an array of services that keep people able to live here and maintain property tax rolls, but county government is a source of employment for hundreds of residents and this helps to keep our economy afloat, especially during hard times.
Politically, it would solve the problem of tasking existing county officials with an impossible job and would eliminate the, shall we say, misunderstandings that arise from this situation. Put simply, asking other department heads to serve in this quasi-administrative capacity is merely a recipe for further frustration. It also places the Board of Supervisors in the very difficult position of having to override what is perceived as objective, expert economic counsel. The wise move for the county would be to fill all current vacancies and freely hire new staff as necessary. Yet it can not do so without disregarding the advice of Bill Cherry (or whoever else is in the position), whose advice will inevitably be given far more weight than it deserves.
Cherry’s own proposal that we replace the Board of Supervisors with a ‘professional’ county legislature completely misses the point. A full-time county legislature would only mean an additional set of elected individuals representing the county. Their particular skill level and ability to deal with complex financial problems would be no better or worse than those of the current Board of Supervisors. Not to mention the fact that a full time legislature could cost upwards of three to four times what the Board of Supervisors costs us in salaries and benefits. This plainly sounds as if Cherry’s personal anger with the Board of Supervisor’s is getting the best of him.
Let’s stop wasting our time and playing games. The county needs a single professional administrator to step in and find some intelligent solutions to a budgeting process that is far too complex to be left to overwhelmed department heads. Such a professional is needed, now more than ever, to take a more active role in the day-to-day administration of Schoharie County. There’s a lot more involved than simple mathematics. The county needs a finer set of tools to deal with the fiscal challenges at hand and should avoid the blunt-force solutions that Cherry is advocating.